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Careers Clinic: Are my self-tapes too unfocused?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I’m no spring chicken in the acting stakes but I’ve always pushed myself to keep up with the times. I was one of the first actors in my circle to have a website when the internet was still on dial-up. I’m on Twitter, Facebook and (thanks to my teenagers) Instagram.

Last year I spotted that self-taping was becoming a ‘thing’ and decided to start my trial and error early. I’ve now got a nice little makeshift studio in the basement where I can achieve good sound and picture quality.

One of the main things that has kept me in work fairly regularly over the past two decades has been my versatility as an actor. In the casting room, I can usually offer several distinct takes on any one character, which casting directors have always seemed to like. I’ve tried to replicate that in my self-tapes. When I get a request in, I try to send back several variations for them to choose from.

I don’t seem to be getting as many callbacks from my tapes as I expected. Do you think I’m increasing my chances or offering too much choice?

Whatever different characterisations you brought to your various self-tapes, I have no doubt that you performed each one in the more understated screen acting style rather than taking the bigger theatrical approach that live performance requires.

My reason for assuming this is that, being an experienced actor, you will know that stage and screen are two different mediums and what works well for one may not necessarily be the right approach for the other.

Going forward, you should include your ‘versatility’ in the category of things that suit one medium but not necessarily another. It can be a really useful skill for an actor to have in a live audition, but there is a time to deploy it and a time to keep it in check. Unless you are specifically asked for more than one version of a character, self-taping is definitely one of those times for putting the brakes on.

The great advantage of self-taping for the casting director is that it enables them to consider a larger number of actors for a role in a shorter space of time, including actors who cannot, for geographic or schedule reasons, attend an in-person audition. The advantage for actors is that being able to self-tape well creates more opportunities to at least get on the radar for roles for which there might be a lot of competition when it comes to actually ‘getting in the room’.

As you say, despite some actors’ fears about self-taping, it is relatively easy to master from a technical point of view. Now there are lots of excellent guides on YouTube and elsewhere, not least the one recently produced for Equity by casting director Manuel Puro.

Given that one of the functions of self-taping is to make it easy for casting directors to see a range of different actors relatively quickly, sending several different tapes featuring the same actor is simply adding to their workload rather than helping with it. If they basically like what they see and want to see whether you can do it differently, they will either ask for another self-tape or get you into the room, where you can both play around to your heart’s content.

In the first instance, your job as a professional actor is to make a bold choice with the material you are given, commit to it, and get the best version you can on tape. I’d much rather you spent your time preparing that one performance properly, filming several takes based on that choice and sending the best one in. I strongly suspect a busy casting director would rather you did that too.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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